City defends handling of Lake Shore Drive logjam

February 2, 2011

(Flickr/Tim Brown)

The Daley Administration defended its decision not to close Lake Shore Drive earlier during the major winter storm late Tuesday that dumped more than 20 inches of snow on Chicago and generated winds in excess of 50 m.p.h.  

During a late afternoon press conference on Wednesday, Raymond Orozco, chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, stated that the decision to keep the Drive open until 7:50 p.m on Tuesday was his to make - and that he believes it was the right one.

"In a storm of this magnitude, there's no way to predict from minute to minute what problems may arise," said Orozco during a news conference late afternoon on Wednesday. "But what we do know is that no major accidents and no serious injuries occurred."

The Daley Administration came under fire for not closing Lake Shore Drive earlier, given the severe weather conditions and long-standing blizzard warnings.  Hundreds of motorists were stranded along the lakefront thoroughfare beginning Tuesday evening as high winds and snow led to white-out conditions and treacherous road travel.  Orozco says he decided to close the Drive after a series of minor accidents occured, making the roads even more dangerous to drivers.

The controversy even found its way into the 2011 race for Chicago mayor.  In a statement, Rahm Emanuel called for "a thorough review" of the city's response.  Meanwhile, Carol Moseley-Braun was more critical, stating that the city should have closed Lake Shore Drive well in advance of the blizzard.

"The question was do we eliminate Lake Shore Drive as an option, which would've essentially diverted thousands of drivers onto other roads", Orozco pointed out.  He says that would've created even more traffic and dangerous travel conditions on other city streets.

Ramps were closed just before 8 p.m., preventing motorists from entering and exiting Lake Shore Drive for hours.  Many were stuck in cars or on CTA buses well into the wee hours of the evening without information or assistance from emergency crews. 

Lake Shore Drive remained closed to traffic as of late Wednesday.  Orozco refused to predict when it would reopen.

Motorists looking to retreive their vehicles abandoned on Lake Shore Drive are urged to call 311.

"Again we completely understand people’s frustrations and I want to thank everyone for being exceedingly patient during this process," said Orozco.